THE ORIGINAL ROCKY MOUNTAIN

There is a not so well-known midrash that tells us when Moses was preparing to ascend Mount Sinai to receive the two stone tablets upon which were engraved the Ten Commandments, various pathways leading to the summit began to quarrel with one another. Each pathway vied for the honor of providing Moses a conduit up the mountain; each pathway offered features that the other pathways could not. One touted being the most direct, while another claimed it was the smoothest path to take. Yet a third, claimed that it offered the least steep climb.

There was the one pathway, however, that did not join in the fray. It felt that it had nothing to offer Moses, in that along the entire way up the mountain, it was strewn with rocks. Predictably, it was the rocky path rather than the other better suited paths that was chosen by Moses. Had Moses known that in time to come there would arise a language called English, his choice of pathways leading up the mountain would have been chosen with even more alacrity.

It would have been phenomenal had Moses been able to say that his climb up Mt. Sinai would be the beginning of a wonderful relationship. Moses’ experience with the Children of Israel, however, told him otherwise. Even though the odyssey from Egypt, along with liberation from enslavement, was barely in its seventh week Moses already understood only too well the attitude and temperament of the Children of Israel. To label those who followed Moses out of Egypt as ingrates would not even begin to do justice to the masses, who were incapable of returning gratitude and loyalty for a new lease on life. Even if Moses was not the greatest prophet in Israel, as we find in the song of praise “Yigdal,” he was nevertheless right on target for following a rocky path all the up Mt. Sinai. For Moses instinctively knew that the relationship HaShem would have to endure over time with His chosen people would be a rocky one.

It’s been close to half a century since the term “Rocky Mountain High” was first introduced to American culture. Truth be told, given Moses’ choice of pathways,  the first Rocky Mountain high was experienced over three millennia earlier: “And they (the Children of Israel) encamped there, opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2). What made the scenario all the more breathtaking was that this was the first, and unfortunately perhaps the last time as well, that the Children of Israel would be united in commitment and spirit. Given that as a people the Children of Israel have historically been known for their acrimony, rather than their harmony, it is safe to say that both HaShem and Moses, His servant, experienced a “Rocky Mountain High,” as they looked down at the masses at the foot of the mountain.

George and Ira Gershwin May have been on to something, despite employing the wrong possessive pronoun, in their joint effort classic. (George composed the music and Ira wrote the lyrics  to “Our Love is Here to Stay,” as a tribute to his brother who had just died). The Rockies have yet to tumble, neither has Mount Sinai with its rocky pathway to the top. But it is “My love,” says HaShem, “that is here to stay.” And that love has been here to stay from the time Moses ascended that rocky pathway leading to the top until this very moment.

Mount Sinai has been known by a number of names over the years:  Har HaElokim,  Har Bashan,  Har Givnunim and Har Horev. Perhaps there is room for yet another name for this earth-shaking, historic mountain. Taking into account HaShem’s immutable love for us, bearing in mind the “Rocky Mountain High” that HaShem and Moses experienced seeing a united people, and considering the rocky relationship that has existed since Moses first received the Torah, perhaps  Mount Sinai that has every right to call itself the original Rocky Mountain.

CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

It’s carob time again! Come Tu B’Shvat, congregants, Hebrew School students and those who attend Jewish Day Schools prepare themselves perennially to hear all about their “raisin” d’etre.

Perhaps it’s time to branch out, and leave the almonds, figs, and dates alone and look to the trees for a different source of nourishment. Perhaps its time for the trees to whet our appetite for everyday living.

It was the French philosopher, mystic and political activist Simone Weil who taught us: “Whoever is uprooted himself, uproots others; whoever is rooted himself doesn’t uproot others.” Have you ever wondered why with but one exception throughout our  history, we Jews do not seek to persuade non-Jews to see the light and embrace Judaism? Can it be that that our religious leaders have been so well rooted in the religion they represent, that it never occurs to them to try to get those of a different faith to see the light? Conversely, have you ever wondered why over the ages, Church leadership, particularly in Europe, went to such great lengths to get Jews to abandon and forsake Old Israel and embrace Christianity? Were they really that concerned in saving Jewish souls or perhaps subconsciously, they themselves were anything but firmly rooted in their own faith?

In my talk this past Shabbat, I spoke about how I “played hooky” the previous Monday morning  and traveled to Hunt County with Sue Kretchman. Our mission was to visit a nonagenarian who, as a teenager in Germany, was part of the Kinder Transport. Truth be told, my ego got the better part of me, as we set out. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t repress feelings of self-righteousness. After all, I reasoned, how many other Dallas rabbis would go out on a limb and  visit someone they had never met, who had no connection whatsoever to their synagogue? On the way back from a most delightful, eye-opening, unforgettable visit,  I realized that it was not I who went out on a limb, but the countless, remarkable, selfless strangers first in Holland and then in England who went out on a limb for Jewish children escaping Nazis. These strangers were part of a godly group who dared to refuse to succumb to the Machiavellian machinations  of the Third Reich. Amidst the many trees at Yad VaShem in Jerusalem, where the Six Million are immortalized, there is the Avenue of the Righteous, a walkway where tribute and honor are bestowed upon those who saved Jewish lives. Given the many trees, I cannot help but feel that that section of Yad Vashem ought to be referred to as “Our undying gratitude to those who went out on a limb.”

If there was one thing in common shared by our prophets in the Tana’ch, it was their inability to see the greater picture. Moshe (yes, Moses is considered a prophet) saw a burning bush. Amos HaNavi or the prophet Amos saw a plumb line. Yirmiyahu HaNavi or the prophet Jeremiah saw the staff of an almond tree. None of them could see the mission that they were about to be sent on. Being able to see the bigger picture is a rare gift among humans. All too often, one small item catches the human eye, blinding that person to the bigger picture.  Adam and Eve were so focused  on the one tree that was off limits to them, that they lost sight of the lush forest full of trees bearing luscious fruits that were theirs for the taking.

As one who spends hundreds of dollars each year planting trees in Israel, I have every reason to believe that in addition to trees and fruit, the message of Tu B’Shvat ought to go far deeper. Aside from indulging in figs and prunes as well as all other fruit associated with Israel, in addition to planting trees in Israel, I ask that you see Tu B’Shvat as a harbinger of codes to live by. As we are asked to focus on trees, I ask that you bear in mind that those who are firmly rooted will not uproot others and that those who are uprooted will try to uproot others. I ask that you recall how indebted we ought to be to those who went out on limb for us. Above all, I ask that you never forget the price that is paid, when one can’t see the forest for the trees.

A meaningful Tu B’Shvat to all!